Friday, July 17, 2009

Wisconsin Pilgrimage

This is our 100th Rant, and there is zero going on with the Packers, so I thought I’d share a WI pilgrimage that is near-and-dear to my heart. Now this isn’t a pilgrimage to Mecca, this is more like a pilgrimage to a low level holy site, comparable to a short journey to the local shrine or the unmarked tomb of a moderately famous imam. This little jaunt that I take a few times a year ends in Cumberland, WI, and it involves two of my favorite things: a temple of bratwurst and heaping piles of cavatilles. You don’t know what cavatilles are? For shame…I will explain.

The Hillside elders live in a beautiful home on Beaver Dam Lake in Cumberland and there are not many better places to visit. The downstairs living room is a shrine to the Packers, complete with a 3x5-ft. bar mirror of Lambeau, lamps and mugs adorn the shelves and tables. Chairs and pictures are spread around the room; Grandma Hillside loves her Packers. However, it is not solely the family and lake that draws one to Cumberland, although if you wanted, Lucille would probably watch a Packer game with you if you mentioned me. The draw for any true Wisconsinite and lover of food to “The Island City” is Louie’s Finer Meats and The Tower House, Bona Casa Foods, and Sammy’s Pizza.

Louie’s Finer Meats is quite simply an amazing, family-run, meat emporium. You name it; they’ve probably got it, including 50+ types of bratwurst. They make beer brats, cranberry brats, the Badger brat (onion, garlic, mozzarella, pimento), jalapeno and cheddar brats, and the Packer brat, made with the ‘kraut already inside along with some good ol’ Wisconsin Cheddar. They even have a Viking brat which just goes to show you that a) no one’s perfect and b) Louie Sr. is a shrewd businessman. In addition to a number brats that would take four seasons of tailgating to plow through, they have meats galore. Steaks, chops, loins, breasts, and bacon cut as thick as your wrist, pretty much whatever you need. Also, if you look at the reflection in the stainless steel of the refrigerated display case just right, you can see a sign on a pad-locked cooler that says: “The Ol’ 96er”. Bring plenty of coolers when you go because you will always leave with more than you anticipated, and you will be a better person for it.

Cumberland was a popular destination for Italian immigrants, and a visit to Cumberland is not complete without visiting at least one of the trifecta of Italian restaurants in town. Following behind Grandpa Hillside’s Sedan de Ville as he inches through town toward either The Tower House, Bona Casa, or Sammy’s Pizza is harsh punishment when all you want to do is bury your face in a plate of cavatilles. You may think I mean cavatelli, but I assure you that I don’t. While the two types of pasta are similar, the Cumberland-evolved version is slightly different in that it is a solid noodle rather than simply folded over. I have never found somewhere outside of Cumberland that sells cavatilles, and maybe that is why they have such a hold over me. Each of the three restaurants’ cavatilles have a slightly different sauce, but you cannot go wrong with any, and they all come with a choice of meatballs or Italian sausage. You will be missing out if you don’t go for the sausage, mark my words. Now, if you are pressed for time and can't spend all day sampling fat, doughy noodle dishes, then I suggest you make a beeline for Sammy’s. In addition to the cavatilles, you can get a Miller Lite in the old-school 8 oz. glasses and, in true Wisconsin style, a portion of the dining room is a shrine to the Packers. The wall of Sammy’s is covered with photos of Sammy with current and former Packers, from Bart Starr to Greg Jennings…most of which are autographed. Beautiful!

Fill a cooler with meat and eat cavatilles, drink a beer, and admire a fantastic collection of autographed Packers’ photos and you'll be very glad you made the pilgrimage to Cumberland, Wisconsin, The Island City.


  1. Now we're talking about important stuff - Italian Food.

    Let me lend my expertise.

    The proper Italian spelling is "Cavatill". It's a wheat pasta based creation that originates from the mountainous Italian Region of Abruzzo. It's their version of what most Italians know as Gnocchi, which are made from potatoes. But you can't grow potatoes in the mountains.
    Cavatill is actually a word that describes how they get their shape during the laborious process to make them.

  2. Grazie, Al!

    If you ever make it Cumberland you will be a happy man.

  3. With last names like Greenfield and Hillside, I understand your needing a little help with Italian food. Just bring those questions to me...

    Whatever you want to call them, I'm sure eating them is fun and traditions are always cool.

  4. I love meat and I love cavatills!

  5. I so enjoyed reading your post about Cumberland, Wisconsin.

    I'm 56 and I can remember when my 4'10" tall AND round Grandma Zappa lived on on a hill across the street from the lake. When I spent the night at her house we'd walk to the post office to get the mail and walk by the Tower House and some house/building we called the terrytoon house. I have no idea why or what it was. I was only 4.

    Grandma made the BEST cavatill. We called them pillows because of the resemblance and "rats"...I don't remember why.

  6. I am from Cumberland!! I stumbled across this website and I am so proud! Beautiful city, beautiful people, beautiful food!!

  7. I'm from near Cumberland, too and absolutely L-O-V-E cavatills! We used to gorge ourselves at the bona casa as kids! Lately Sammy's is the place we go when we're visiting our parents. My aunt (still from Cumberland) used to work at the Tower House years ago and still makes cavatills at home. She shared the recipe with her sister (my mom) who shared it with me, so I make a giant batch a couple times a year. Mine are the old, traditional, solid ones rolled out strictly by hand - no cavatill rolling machines for me! Here's a pic of one batch all ready for the freezer: They're made with potatoes and flour. I love beets so a few years ago I made a batch out of beets (instead of potatoes) and they were awesome, too! Here's a pic: And last December I made a batch using butternut squash and they were amazing, too: I bet they'd be fantastic made with sweet potatoes, too. Maybe I'll try that this year sometime! :) Cavatills, Y-U-M-M-M-M-M-M-M!!!!

  8. Funny - I was looking for references to cavatills tonight and stumbled across this interesting thread. I found potato gnocchi at my favorite store today (Aldi) and wondered how they compare to cavatills. They look similar, but not the same. I didn't buy any since I didn't want to risk it -- I like the ones I make! :) I find it strangely interesting that cavatills appear to be mostly an unknown delicacy - surprisingly limited to Cumberland, Wisconsin! Who knew! I guess Al did - thx, Al, for posting your gnocchi = cavatills reference! Exactly what I was looking for! :)


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